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Religious Freedom wins Senate Vote

March 23rd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Public school students will have more options to express their religious beliefs under legislation approved by the state Senate today. Opponents worried kids will face discrimination or feel like they have to go along to get along, but the Senate President says schools have gone too far stifling religious discussion.

Supporters of more religious freedom didn’t point out specific instances where it had been denied. They spoke in broad generalities. Sen. Doug Broxson (R-Pensacola) told colleagues it was long overdue.

“This bill sends a message to our sixty-seven counties that you can take some liberties in showing religious expression” says Broxson.

The Debate took place under the state motto: In God we trust. Opponent Audrey Gibson  had a warning.

“That really will create, I believe, more misunderstanding then understanding” said Gibson.

Pastors in the audience cheered the vote; Gerald Bustin made the rip from Marion County.

“Crime, teenage pregnancies exponentially went higher immediately after we took god out of our schools” the pastor told us.

Opponents also warned of students being bullied for their beliefs. That’s what happened to high school senior Maryann Herrera…at a Catholic high school, when she disagreed with the majority in her class.

“I was the only one who had a different view on stuff and that kinda made me feel stumbled upon, you know, everyone was very expressive. and so was I in a way, but they weren’t as respectful” said the high schooler who transferred to public school for more diversity.

The bill requires schools to created a limited public forum where students can speak their mind, if they want.

The legislation was a top priority of the Senate President

“I would never tolerate or should the law tolerate someone being discriminated against, but lets not go to the other extreme where actually we’re unfairly penalizing a student” said Joe Negron after the session.

The House version cleared its final committee on Thursday setting it up for a final vote as early as next week.

The legislation will also allow students to wear religious clothing or jewelry, and form clubs, whenever students are also allowed to wear non secular messages, jewelry, or hold meetings.

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Black Caucus Backs State Attorney

March 23rd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Black Caucus said today the Governor overstepped his authority when he took a murder case out of the hands of State Attorney Aramis Ayala after she said she would not ever seek death sentences. They want the Governor to rescind the order. State Senator Audrey Gibson says the decision should be left up to voters.

“The people of that circuit elected her. She made her case, apparently and won that election..They trust her judgement, and the Governor should have stayed out of it.”

But the Fraternal Order of Police are livid. President Robert Jenkins described security camera video showing suspect Markeith Loyd executing the Orlando officer after killing his pregnant girlfriend.

“This this isn’t as normal a case where you would seek the death penalty I don’t know what would be. The officer , Lt. Clayton was executed. Not just killed, shot. She was executed on video. Its not a race issue. Its a fiduciary responsibility, her duty to perform the laws.”

Many have called for Ayala’s removal from office. Governor Rick Scott has said he is considering all his options.

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Whiskey and Wheaties Clears Senate

March 23rd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The State Senate voted today to kill a prohibition era law that requires liquor stores to be stand alone businesses. Walmart and Target have been leading the fight to “tear down the wall”. Sponsor Anitere Flores of Miami says it is outdated

“If retailers want to, they can sell distilled spirits int he same format as they sell beer and wine. This is not a mandate.”

Keli Stargel of Lakeland told colleagues the legislation would lead to impose buying.

“You have to physically walk out, check out, and you had to walk into the liquor store to buy your liquor. It was an intention decision and it wasn’t an impulse buy. With this change, you can be walking in the store on a bad day after work, and pick up a fifth of 180 proof grain alcohol, and literally kill yourself that night if you drink it.” says Stargel.

The legislation is on a fast track in both the House and Senate. The legislation was amended to phase in over a five year period to give small liquor stores a change to adjust to the change.

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Medical Marijuana: everything is negotiable except taxes and smoking

March 22nd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

State lawmakers are zeroing in on medical marijuana in the State Capitol. Five different ideas were floated in the State Senate during a workshop today. the House has just one bill, but the people behind Amendment 2 say the House version won’t do what voters are seeking.

Florida’s Police Chiefs spent the day walking Capitol hallways pushing their version of what medical marijuana should look like on the streets. Daniel Oates is the Chief of Police in Miami Beach.

“When, where and how medical marijuana dispensaries operate. That’s very, very important to the Florida Police Chiefs”Oates told us.

The Chiefs wold have liked what the House Sponsor Rep. Ray Rodrigues was telling Mayors from across the state.

“You control how many dispensaries will be within your borders and where those will be located” says Rodrigues.

But even Rep. Ray Rodrigues describes the House position, with no smokable and no edibles, as more conservative than the Senate.

“We have no smokable’s, currently just vaping for terminally ill, and no edibles. The key  thing from our perspective is this was sold as medical marijuana and we believe doctors

should have a role within the relationship.”

And that conservative approach isn’t sitting well with Ben Pollera. He ran the Amendment 2 campaign.

“Leader Rodrigues has said, too, he’s doing this, he’s written this, quote end quote, to protect people from, you know, the ills of marijuana rather than respecting this is a new right we put into the constitution, not something that requires a whole new set of restrictions and places to get tripped up” says the Amendment’s author.

About the only thing everyone agrees on is that the seven growers who have invested millions, will play a major part in whatever emerges from the legislature.

In the end, Senate Health Policy Chair Dana Young says  they have one goal.

“To implement the amendment the way the voters wanted it implemented and that’s what I am going to do.” says Young.

Lawmakers know 71 percent of their voters said yes. They also know if they don’t get it right, each of those voters has the right to go to court.

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League of Mayors to lawmakers. Back Off

March 22nd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida League of Mayors wants to get on lawmakers radar and they want the legislature to stop trying to overturn home rule. Prior to 1968, cities had to ask lawmakers for local bills to address local problems. Now the legislature is pushing a bill ending local regulatory control. League of Mayors President Carol McCormick of Palm Shores says enough is enough.

“We took action on the internet gambling facilities before the legislature did. So we have to address issues as they come to us. we can’t wait, and to think that 412 cities can come up here an find a legislator who’s gonna have time to deal with a local issue” says the Mayor.

The mayors are also worried lawmakers will disable Community Redevelopment Agencies that fund improvements in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

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Rethink Energy rally

March 22nd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Nearly 200 supporters gathered on the steps of the Capitol today, unhappy anti fracking legislation is having trouble getting a hearing and legislation favorable to utilities is part of the bill implementing the Solar Amendment approved by voters in August. Rethink energy Florida Organizer Kim Ross  says the state must ban fracking and allow local governments to go even further if they want.

“And we are worried about our drinking water. We’re also worried about our Floridian aquifer. Fracking uses a lot more water than regular processes for drilling. So we’re also worried about draining our aquifer. We don’t need to put additional pressure on our acquirer” says Ross.

The group also wants a clean solar bill that will keep property appraisers from raising the value of property because of solar improvements, which is what voters approved last August.

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Cuban sandwiches delivered by Pirates for all

March 22nd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

There were Cuban sandwiches for two thousand, deviled crab, dancers, and pirates. Tampa Zoo brought eleven different animals. It is all part of the annual Hillsborough Day at at the State Capitol, and one of the favorite free lunch festivities of the Legislative session. County Commissioner Ken Hagen says the day offers business leaders a change to let lawmakers know whats on their mind.

“I thinks it nice that they know we’re out here and we have an opportunity, whether its one on one in the office, or its more social gathering like lunch, or a happy hour afterwards to be able to tell them issues that are of concern to us” says the Commissioner.

The entire event was sponsored by businesses who picked up the tab for the day.

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Furor over death case decision growing

March 21st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The furor over the State Attorney in Orlando refusing to pursue death cases is growing at the state Capitol, where lawmakers now want every death eligible case in the circuit transferred to a prosecutor who will pursue death.

Larry Darnell Perry is facing murder charges for killing his infant son. His case went all the way to the State Supreme Court last year, It was used to uphold Florida’s death penalty. Perry is from Osceola county, where the prosecutor says she won’t seek death against him. Now, Rep. Bob Cortes wants the Perry case and at least four others transferred to a new prosecutor.

“When she threw a blanket statement and said she would not do any of them because of the five reasons that she does not support the death penalty, she’s not’s using prosecutorial discretion, she’s using her own” says Cortes.

Cortes is also urging the Governor to suspend prosecutor Aramis Ayala. Scott isn’t saying what he will do yet.

“We rare going to review our options, but on Thursday, when I reassigned the case to Brad King, she signed off on it. Then on Monday morning, for whatever reason, she’s changed her mind” says the Governor.

If Scott were to suspend the prosecutor, she would face a trial by the State Senate.

But not everyone is calling for the Prosecutor to get booted. Ingrid Del Gado of the Conference of Catholic Bishops says the prosecutor is echoing what the conference has been saying for years.

“Mainly the high cost of the death penalty over life without parole” Del Gado told us. “The disproportionate application among the severely mentally ill, the poor and minorities. And also the effect on victims family members through a prolonged judicial process. 

Three House members voted against recent legislation calling for a unanimous jury in death cases. One of them has filed legislation tor repeal the death penalty.

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Mandatory DUI interlocks watered down

March 21st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Legislation to require all DUI offenders to use an ignition lock to prove they are sober before driving has been watered down. A compromise now encourages first time offenders to use the interlock devices for six months in exchange for having the DUI disappear off their record. Rep. Cord Byrd told committee members a second offense would bring harsh penalties.

“To be eligible for a withhold, the first time offender can not have a prior criminal history. The withhold would allow the first time DUI offender to have his or her DUI records sealed, so they would be able to not report that on an employment application, however law enforcement would still have access to the information such that the person is arrested again for DUI, that would show up on their record” Byrd explained to the committee.

The devices cost about three dollars a day and are the responsibility of the motorist.

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Pollution Notification Legislation moving in Senate

March 21st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A giant sinkhole in Polk County that dumped millions of gallons of radioactive wastewater into the acquirer and a sewage spill in St. Petersburg are the catalyst for legislation that would require companies to notify the Department of Environmental Protection of any spills. State Senator Bill Galvano of Bradenton says the department would then be responsible for notifying area residents.

“You had the two incidents in August and September and people want to be informed, at least my constituents, and I believe its true throughout the state. People are very serious about their drinking water, and when something like this happens, we need to know about it” says Galvano.

The Governor tried to use remaking to require the notice, but after a judge threw the rule making process out, Scott turned to lawmakers for the legislation. The bill has not gotten a hearing in the House.

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National Guard Day 2017

March 21st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Machine gun armed National Guardsmen roamed the Capitol courtyard filled with tanks, bomb disarming robots, and men repelling from the roof of the capitol today. Each year, the Florida National Guard puts on a display of men and equipment. Major General Michael Calhoun says its an effort to remind lawmakers about what they do everyday.

“For them to show their support to us is tremendous. To give back to the communities . to be here to see where it all starts. Hear the support from the Governor, so its a fantastic day to collect right here to see the displays and we can show you what we do when you don’t normally see it” says the General.

The National Guard has been called out more than one hundred times in recent decades and they are often the first on the ground when a hurricane strikes.

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Civil citations in limbo as law enforcement seeks discretion

March 20th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

First time misdemeanor offenders under the age of 18 would automatically receive a civil citation instead of an arrest record under legislation moving trough the State Senate, but the states Sheriffs and Police Chiefs are pushing back.

Police would be required to issue civil citations to first time juvenile misdemeanor offenders for eleven crimes outlined in the Senate bill. The Children’s Campaign has made mandatory citations a top priority after a study found wide disparity from one jurisdiction to another. Howard Simon is the ACLU’s Executive Director.

“You can’t have a system in which things vary from county to county, from law enforcement agency to law enforcement agency.”

But police and Sheriff’s don’t want to lose complete discretion. They’ve been walking the Capitol hallways arguing against the bill. Shane Bennet is the Lawtey Police Chief and speaks for the Florida Police Chiefs Association

“We don’t want to take juveniles to jail, and in some parts of the state the agencies need to push it a little harder” says Bennet.

Instead of being told what to do, law enforcement likes House Bill 205 filed by St. Petersburg Representative Larry Ahern.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says the House bill requires a juveniles record to be expunged if they complete diversion.

“Pre arrest. Post arrest, a combination of both is that, no putting on a job application you were arrested. No having to claim it. You can lawfully deny it. You get an expungement, and your records are confidential” says a heated Gualtieri.

But a church group know as FAST, which stands for Faith and Action for Strength Together has been fighting the Sheriff on Civil Citations.

“Thank you for considering it” one member told Gualtieri sarcastically.

Geneva Pittman says they want no part of the House bill.

“The word arrest is not what we are after.”

And the disagreement has stalled the civil citation legislation as both sides look for a compromise.

Under the Senate bill, police would still have discretion on misdemeanors, and even some felonies not listed in the bill.

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House Judiciary Chair calls for State Attorneys removal

March 20th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is calling for the Governor to suspend Orlando-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala after she said she wold not seek death in murder cases during her tenure. Rep. Chris Sprowls says her decision could undermine the death penalty across the state.

“I think that what we have to look at next is whether or not she should be suspended. It is my opinion that she should absolutely be suspended, and that should then be forward to the Senate to confirm that removal. I think the real threat now is that you have one state attorney who is unwilling to follow the law or even consider it, which could lead to a real danger for the death penalty statute in its entirety” Sprowls told us.

Sprowls believes Ayala’s anti death penalty stance could allow someone sentenced to death elsewhere in the state to challenge their sentence on equal protection grounds.


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Constitution Revision Commission holds first meeting in 20 years

March 20th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The Constitution Revision Commission is unique to Florida. It meets once every twenty years, and today was the commission’s first meeting for this cycle. it is made up of people appointed by the Chief Justice, the Governor, the Speaker of the House and the Senate President. It is expected to consider controversial ideas such s school vouchers, abortion, and access to public records. Speaker Richard Corcoran called the group “all stars.”

“My first word of encouragement would be, sometimes, it’s what you don’t do that’s more important than what you do do. And try not to do any harm to that document”

says the Speaker.

The Commission has the power to vote on proposed amendments to the state constitution that go directly to the ballot for voters to consider. Two previous commissions (1978 and 1998) have had mixed success on what they asked voters to approve.

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Lawmaker seeks to open adoption records

March 17th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

In Florida, adopted children who become adults have no mechanism for obtaining their original birth certificates, and  two members of the legislature who were adopted at birth are at at the center of the debate.

State Representatives Richard Stark and Jason Brodeur were both adopted. Both have very different takes on finding their birth parents.

You found your birth parents some time ago?”

“30 years ago. I didn’t need a birth certificate to do it” Stark told us.

Rep. Jason Brodeur’s got a different take.

Q:”Have you found your birth parents or tried to?”


Q:Not interested?”

“Nope” says Brodeur

Stark has filed legislation that would allow adoptees, after they turn 18, to request the original copies of their birth certificates.

“I mean, it’s something that’s personal to you. You’d like to have a copy of it. It’s your history” sys Stark.

The idea is not without controversy says Brodeur.

“What I don’t want to do is make it mandatory that those parents have to reveal themselves at some point. What I think that that could result in is higher numbers of terminations of pregnancies from those who fear what could happen in 18 years.”

Nat sot” Nash was my original name” Stark said as he showed us the original adoption paperwork.

New Jersey allows birth parents to opt out. But only 558 birth parents out of 3 hundred thousand did so.

And Stark says that women more than men are more interested in finding their birth parents.” “And they in more cases than the men, want to know where they came from. And so very often, they are the ones really pushing the legislation.”

Stark shared that his mother was 15, got pregnant, and opted for adoption.

“I lucked out. I was raised in a great home” he says. “And I know from the birth family, even though they are very nice people, it was not a great situation.”

And Stark says he is still closer to his adopted parents who are 97 and 89.

Stark told us the greatest thrill of finding his birth parents is he learned they later married and have two more boys, whom he has met. 26 states have some mechanism for adoptees who become adults to get their original paperwork or medical records. All but two have some way for birth parents to opt out of being found.


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